Laolu Akande, Abuja: I am here (Delta State) today as an emissary, a messenger of our president, President Muhammadu Buhari, President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and Commander in-Chief of the Armed forces of this nation.
I am also here as a citizen of our country, and to you the great people of Gbaramatu Kingdom.
Earlier today, I had the privilege of meeting with his royal majesty, the Pere of the Gbaramatu Kingdom and his chiefs and l was received very warmly (and all that is left is that l have not been offered a chieftaincy title but l intend to take it shortly.)
I have come with a message for the people of the Gbaramatu Kingdom and the people of the Niger Delta as a whole .
It is a short message, it is and l quote “that we must prepare for the future.”
The Niger Delta that we see today including this great kingdom is an area of poor infrastructure, few schools, few hospitals and a severe pollution, as Niger Delta of today is one of daily pipeline vandalization.
In 2014 alone, there were over 3,700 incidents of pipeline vandalization, from January to June 2016, there were over 1,447 incidents of vandalization.
The Niger Delta of today is one where aside from environmental degradation, between 1998 and 2015, over 20,000 persons have died from fire incidents arising from breaching of the pipelines.
The city is poor and thousands have health challenges especially as a result of environmental pollution.
The Niger Delta of today, anywhere you go, there are signboards of proposed infrastructural projects mostly uncompleted and many are simply abandoned. Many of the initiatives , if you check, the story has not been able to make the big changes required.
From the Niger Delta Development Board in the 60’s, the OMPADEC, the NDDC, & the Amnesty Programme, many of these projects have not been able to meet the objectives that were set for them.
The status-quo of Nigeria, years of official neglect, corruption and malfunction of oil companies have yielded a massive whole pain till today.
But my message to you today is that it is time to prepare for the future. Our future is not a future of environmental degradation, poor infrastructure, it is not a future of no roads, harrassment.
It is a future of progress & development.
Unfortunately there is no time because the future is already here, every citizen should ensure that the future is not worse than today and to prepare for a great and promising future of the Gbaramatu Kingdom and the people of the Niger Delta as a whole.
Now, 3 things must happen and l want you to follow me closely:
1. We must also recognise that the Niger Delta is a special place , a special economic zone for this nation and so must be treated as a special development zone .
2. We must recognise a unique environmental and daring challenges of Niger Delta.
3. The third thing that must happen as we prepare for the future is to realise that the future is full of challenges for the oil industry
SPECIAL DEVELOPMENT ZONE
Long ago at the Willinks commission, it had been acknowledged that because of the peculiar environment of the Niger Delta, and the profound challenges, it should be treated as a special development zone.
And l agree entirely that this zone has to be treated as a special development zone, but what does this mean in practical terms ?
It means that the Federal Government , State Government and the National Assembly representatives alongside NDDC and the Civil Society representatives of the Niger Delta people must sit together and develop a plan and concrete arrangements for development of the Niger Delta.
There is no excuse for not planning together , the Federal Government alone cannot solve the problems of the Niger Delta just as my dear brother President of the Ijaw Youth Council said.
It is impossible for Federal Government alone, but we can with the State Government in this delta region , National Assembly members and Civil Society Organisations plan for this special development zone and make sure that they carry it out and they deliver on the promises that we have made to the people.
The State Government should also be prepared to devote substantial portions of there budgets to this special projects.
The PANDEF have submitted a concise list of 16 dialogue issues that will be extemely helpful in ascertaining the key development priorities. That bounded document is an important working document.
It is a document that shows what is required to be done and in every sense the document is an excellent roadmap for the future of the Niger Delta region.
We must also hold some of the international oil companies to the agreement to host communities relating to development of those areas . We must ensure that in the future, in commercial opportunities rising from oil exploration activities, pipelines supervision and other such contracts should favour host communities.
We must promote indigenous participation of oil companies. Some oil companies have the excellent ideas of giving out ownerships to there host communities.
The critical issue is infrastructure, roads, rails, hospitals and schools.
In the 2017 budget we have provided for the commencement of the Lagos-Calabar rail way, the coastal railway which will go through the Niger Delta . We are doing this with the Chinese. We will be visiting Kurutie, the site of the Maritime University.
The President has directed the Ministry of Petroleum to work quickly to see the realisation of all of the objectives in implementing this crucial educational institutions.
The bill of the Maritime University have just passed the second reading in the National Assembly and l know we have the commitment of the members of the National Assembly to fast-track this to ensure that the Maritime University can come to fruition as soon as possible.
All of these and every one of them is listed in the bounded 16 dialogue issues projects that will benefit not just the Gbaramatu Kingdom and the entire Niger Delta.
But the issue is how to finance, there must be resources and revenues and if the revenues does not come we are deceiving ourselves and we are telling ourselves stories. Revenues can only come when we are sure that there is peace, this is the way of the obvious and l do believe that this must come with justice, legal justice itself is needed for these to be effected.
l look forward to all that has been said and all that the Youth Council have said.
His royal majesty also assured me that there is a commitment to peace, a commitment to ensuring that we are able to make progress and all the revenues that will bring to fruition those things that we have promised and those things that are contained in the bounded document.
The second thing that must happen in other to ensure that we prepare adequately for the future is the clean- up of environmental degradation of the entire Delta. The Ogoni clean-up has already been flagged off and an implementation committee is in place.
For the clean-up not to be a waste of money, we must enforce strict environmental standard for the oil producing companies including regulatory commitments on gas glaring and all our communities must prevent vandalization which is also a major source of environmental degradation.
FUTURE OF OIL
The third thing that must happen as we prepare for the future is that the future is full of challenges for the oil industry. And we must recognise that in another 20 to 30 years our oil will not be as precious as it is today and that is reality.
America has stopped buying oil from us. All the countries in the Asia that buy oil now are developing alternative sources of power, China and Japan are developing electric cars. In fact, Japan now has more charging stations than petrol stations everywhere. Solar power & other various sources of energy are getting cheaper.
We must be smart, we must act intelligently and act in time.
We have a window of opportunity, we must use our oil to develop our people.
This Kingdom, a place like this should not be just like this, it should be better, it should look like Dubai or anywhere in the very developed countries in the world . It shouldn’t look like this, I am not satisfied but we cannot change unless we recognise that we only have a window of opportunity, may be 20, 30 years.
If we don’t take that window of opportunity we will spend that windows toying with ourselves.I pray we will work together to make sure that we are able to deliver for the future, & for all of our people.
To my brothers in the Ijaw Youth Council, I have heard you and l will take your message back to Mr. President. You have spoken well.
But let me say to you all of the young men and women here, the future belongs to you. You are not the leaders of tomorrow, you are the leaders of today because the future is already here, it has come but it comes with tremendous responsibility.
The first responsibility is ensuring peace, development cannot rise without peace, the world is moving quickly, we must not waste time.
Our President, President Muhammadu Buhari , in several times he has discussed with me, have always said one thing, and i quote “i have spent my life committed to this country, i ve done nothing else, am not a business man, l have spent all my life in public service, every part of this nation is important to me and as long as God gives me life, I am going to prove that every part of this nation is important to me.”
This part of the nation is important to Mr. President, every word that he says, l believe him because he is a man of his words and I am assuring you that he is completely committed to ensuring that there is justice in Gbaramatu Kingdom, justice in the Niger Delta , peace and progress in the Niger Delta region.